American Apocalypse by Professor Rena Steinzor on shelves July 9

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In her new book, Professor Rena Steinzor, an expert on the U.S. regulatory system, takes on six private sector special interest groups—big business, the House Freedom Caucus, the Federalist Society, Fox News, white evangelicals, and armed militias—which, she argues, are fighting a battle of attrition against the national government, with power, money, and fame as their central motivations. American Apocalypse: The Six Far-Right Groups Waging War on Democracy offers a fresh analysis of this internal war, looking at the public health consequences resulting from the weakening of our government’s administrative structure.  

Steinzor is not using the word “apocalypse” hyperbolically. She is referring to the inescapable and already manifesting health crises resulting from climate change, accelerated, she posits, by the erosion of regulatory agencies originally designed to protect the planet. 

Early readers take her warnings deadly seriously. Former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh says, “This is a chilling account of six right wing vectors of attack on democracy. Professor Steinzor weaves together the threats each of the groups pose to the rule of law and to America as we have known it for nearly 250 years. She reveals a tapestry that is both compelling and horrifying."  

Steinzor envisions near- and long-term consequences of the groups’ attacks, exemplified by the January 6 insurrection, on democratic institutions. In the immediate future, she sees crucial functions of government, including environmental regulation, coming to a halt, leading to immediate suffering by the working classes and a rapid deterioration of race relations. Over the long-term, as the prevalence of global pandemics and climate crises increase, an incapacitated national government, she argues, will usher in “unimaginable harm.”  

“Scientists warn that another global pandemic is inevitable, and climate change is not only getting worse but happening faster,” says Steinzor. “Without an effective national government, people will die or become disabled for no reason except our inability to agree on what we need government to do.” 

The book digs into the history of modern regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and traces efforts to thwart what became known as “big government,” from business leaders building a multi-billion-dollar presence in the Capitol, to the evolution of the rest of the six interest groups, which soon followed.  

Public health leader Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, lauds the book for highlighting the danger right-wing groups pose to public servants committed to improving health outcomes in the United States. 

“Attacks on public health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic were of a scale unprecedented in modern times,” wrote Sharfstein for the book jacket. “American Apocalypse connects this terrible development to the growth of fringe ideologies and violent militias that present a profound threat to our collective health and well-being.”  

Apocalyptic language notwithstanding, Steinzor does not leave readers empty of hope. Her final chapter titled “Solutions” endorses ambitious campaign finance reform as a path back from the brink of democracy’s demise. “The tidal wave of money from the very rich has undermined the most important prerequisites of a functioning democracy: voting and making laws,” Steinzor writes. “More than most other major reforms, this one has the potential to displace the clog of fury that paralyzes Congress.” 

Steinzor is the Edward M. Robertson Professor of Law at Maryland Carey Law. A distinguished professor, scholar, and environmental activist, she teaches administrative law, food safety law, and advanced courses on the regulatory system. Steinzor has testified before Congress on several occasions, most recently regarding the impact of health, safety, and environmental regulations on the economy. 

In the book’s acknowledgements, she dedicates the volume to the students who have taken her government law courses over the years, with special thanks to Kennedi Fichtel ’22, Kaitlyn Johnson ’24, Saul Slowik ’22, and Matt Williams ’22, who were her research assistants for American Apocalypse. 

Getting to collaborate with Steinzor had a huge impact on her, says Johnson, who conducted research on campaign finance law, particularly the Citizens United and Supreme Court decisions. 

“Working as a research assistant for Professor Steinzor was an incredibly formative experience for me,” says Johnson, an incoming associate at Keller and Heckman LLP. “Professor Steinzor helped me to apply, and significantly improve upon, my newly developing legal research, writing, and analytical skills. Perhaps most importantly, this work helped me to bridge the gap between what I was studying in the classroom—legal cases and theory—with the real-world impact these cases actually have on our democracy and governmental institutions.” 

American Apocalypse builds on three decades of scholarship Steinzor has produced during her time at Maryland Carey Law. She is the author of the books Why Not Jail? Industrial Disasters, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction; The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public: Special Interests, Government, and Threats to Health, Safety, and the Environment (with Sidney Shapiro); and Mother Earth and Uncle Sam: How Pollution and Hollow Government Hurt Our Kids. Additionally, she is editor, with Wendy Wagner, of Rescuing Science from Politics, and, with Christopher Schroeder, of A New Progressive Agenda for Public Health and the Environment. 

Steinzor has written or co-written more than 50 scholarly articles in such areas as criminal culpability for recklessness that threatens public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment; regulatory dysfunction in agencies assigned to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment; and environmental federalism, including so-called “unfunded mandates” imposed on state and local governments by the federal government. Her articles have been downloaded over 40,000 times.  

A 1976 graduate of Columbia Law School, Steinzor began her legal career at the Federal Trade Commission, where she was an attorney in the credit practices division, a special assistant to the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and an attorney advisor to Commissioner Patricia P. Bailey.  

In 1983, she became staff counsel for the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation, and Tourism of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the primary staff person responsible for legislation that became the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. She also prepared legislation to reauthorize the Toxic Substances Control Act during the 98th Congress. 

Before joining the Maryland Carey Law faculty in 1994, Steinzor was partner in charge of the environmental practice at Spiegel & McDiarmid, a Washington D.C. Law firm specializing in the representation of state and local government entities in the energy and environmental areas. 

Published by Stanford University Press, American Apocalypse: The Six Far-Right Groups Waging War on Democracy hits bookshelves on July 9. 

The Maryland Carey Law community will celebrate the book’s publication with a special event at the law school during the 2024 fall semester.